BRUSSELS – “The valley of the shadow of death” is how U.S. Army Gen. Curtis M. “Mike” Scaparrotti – the commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Commander of NATO – referred last week to the Allied invasion of the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The turning point of World War II, which came to be known as D-Day, was marked as usual this year with speeches and ceremonies to celebrate the heroism of the military veterans of the Greatest Generation, all of them at least 90 years old now.
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The tiny difference between June 5, when Israelis this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, and June 6 for the Americans, reflects the great difference between the two nations’ security and defense philosophies. In Israel, which has little capacity for absorption and recovery, focus is placed on the initial blow to the enemy.
The Americans, traditionally, have preferred to avoid paying the social and political price of constant preparedness and instead to absorb a Pearl Harbor or two before marshaling all their forces for a retaliatory strike that will end in victory. D-Day is the clearest expression of the shift from a position of defense and building up power to a counterattack that will defeat the enemy.
This year, however, the events to mark D-Day were accompanied by an unpleasant sense of crisis, as the “D” in D-Day turned out to stand for Donald.
President Donald Trump, who was born a year after World War II ended and who has promised to return his country to a golden age of huge victories, does not know history. Nor does he understand what the statesmen of the decade that followed the war did – the ones who raised Europe from its ruins and created a security regime that bridged the Atlantic Ocean and blocked Soviet expansion westward. In fact, Trump doesn’t have a clue about the meaning of victory or security.
It was easy to convince Israeli journalists who were invited guests at NATO headquarters in the Belgian capital last week that European members of the alliance were indeed shocked by Trump’s behavior at the summit meeting last month, as had been reported.
In casual conversations – most of them off the record, because officials at NATO headquarters and members of national delegations are supposed to follow the company line – an unusual sense of distress seemed to peek through the cover of good manners and the belief that the alliance will survive, no matter what.
NATO has an enemy within its ranks. Not since Charles de Gaulle, who in the mid-1960s pulled France out of NATO’s integrated military structure and expelled the organization’s headquarters from Paris, has the alliance had an internal saboteur like Trump. He is threatening to do to NATO what the British decision to leave the European Union is doing to that organization. The clock is running backward; the new policy means a weak alliance.
June 6 was not the only date celebrated in Europe last week. Germany, in particular, marked the 70th anniversary of then-U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s commencement speech to the 1947 graduating class of Harvard, in which he laid out what soon came to be known as the Marshall Plan. It was the end of American separatism, a time of “the Creation,” as Marshall’s colleague (and successor) Dean Acheson put it.
America, having paid the price for its isolation at the end of World War I, decided to rehabilitate Europe and to remain there, in a blend of generosity and utilitarianism, and with the support of the two major political parties. Two years later, NATO was established as the military link tasked to be the dam against Soviet expansion, headed by the D.D. of D-Day, Dwight David Eisenhower.
An inventory of senior U.S. officials who served in the highest political or military ranks of NATO before returning to Washington: Eisenhower – U.S. president; Alexander Haig – secretary of state; Donald Rumsfeld – secretary of defense; Jim Jones – national security adviser. And now, Defense Secretary James Mattis, whose first assignment as a four-star general was as the supreme allied commander of transformation, which is responsible for building NATO’s forces.
Mattis has influence, but he does not decide. Trump, who during his election campaign declared NATO “obsolete” and who deigned to reverse that judgment after his inauguration, has since returned to his wicked ways.
He is like a landlord who tells his tenants the good life they enjoyed under their building’s neglectful management was finished, and he’s raising their rent. Trump is so ignorant, fact-denying and sycophantic toward his constantly contracting support base that he fails to grasp that the building in question is not American property but rather a co-op; that he is the head of the tenants’ committee, not the owner; and that a single recalcitrant shareholder can block a profitable renovation that everyone else wants.
From one dozen “tenants” in 1949, NATO has more than doubled, reaching 29 with the accession of Montenegro to the alliance last Monday. The underlying idea – one for all and all for one – is more doable with the Three Musketeers than with close to 30 states, but the same logic prevails: a mutual defense pact against common threats.
The United States is the unquestionable leader. Despite the declared equality within the decision-making mechanism, which is based on consensus, the alliance is dependent on a single superpower, with global responsibility and nuclear and other forces deployed throughout the world, and a defense budget to match.
The working assumption of Marshall and Acheson in the Truman administration, President Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, and all of their inheritors up until Trump was that NATO was a good deal for the United States that should not be measured only in dollars. In the beginning, there was an immediate need to keep Western states – particularly in the Mediterranean region, from Greece to Italy and France – from succumbing to the domino effect that put Eastern Europe under the influence of communism.
The monetary aid helped to shore up the governments. West Germany rose from the ashes of World War II to become an economic miracle, and its armed forces joined NATO just one decade after they were defeated by the Allies.
The United States indeed carries the greatest burden in funding NATO, and for four decades – Trump cannot claim to have invented the idea – there have been complaints in Washington that the Continent’s postwar urban renewal program has succeeded and the bill must be divided up more fairly because Europeans have become rich, transforming from beggars to misers. On top of that, U.S. voters hate foreign aid (domestic aid, too) and could punish its supporters in the polling booth. That is the simplistic side of the argument.
The more complex, and up until now more persuasive side, has additional layers: World War III, were it not prevented by NATO, would be conducted mainly on the bodies, cities, fields and factories of the Germans, and leaving them to fend for themselves would have pushed them into acquiring nuclear deterrence. The U.S. payment therefore provides double insurance: against an overly powerful, independent Germany as much as for a strong Germany.
Day of the jackal
If Trump failed to endorse Article 5, the mutual defense provision of the alliance, he undermines the entire foundation of NATO and shoves its worried members into the arms of the neighborhood bully now waking from his slumbers, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump is a charlatan, Putin the jackal that howls at him. Trump’s demand to shift the emphasis away from the resurgent danger posed by Russia and toward the war against terror – a mission that belongs outside of NATO for fear of leaks of sensitive intelligence that must not be shared with all 29 member states (nor with Trump himself) – satisfies Putin and embarrasses the U.S. officers, permanent staff members and national delegations of NATO due to its naked political and personal motivations.
Given these circumstance, Israel’s star is rising within NATO. Who can compare in fighting terror? When it comes to counterterrorism, the specialty with the greatest demand is turning an enormous sledgehammer, which kills people and pushes the loved ones who mourn them into terrorism, into tiny, precise hammers. It is important from both the humanitarian and legal perspective. When NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visits Israel this fall, it would be worth taking him to an Israel Air Force firing range, to show him how a fighter plane hits only the dummy in a car’s driver seat and not the passenger sitting next to it.
NATO officials don’t care about the Israeli-Arab conflict. They leave that to the capital cities of its member states, to the EU, to the United Nations. There are two exceptions: the Mediterranean Dialogue, which puts Israel at a NATO table together with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia; and the Gaza-Hamas-Turkey by-product, in which Erdogan discovered Turkey is situated between Israel and NATO, and blocked the road between them.
The seven bad years between Jerusalem and Ankara over the Mavi Marmara incident (in which 10 Turkish nationals died) ended recently, and Turkey went hunting for new victims: Austria, which like Israel is not a full member in NATO; as well as an old one, Greece.
Israel’s delegation to the EU and NATO is second only to Washington in its importance. It is staffed by the Foreign Ministry’s best diplomats: Ephraim Halevy, Harry Kney-Tal, Oded Eran, Ran Curiel. The staff members are also among the best that Israel’s foreign service has to offer. It’s not their fault the government has no policy, no leadership and no Foreign Ministry worthy of the name.
Leader of the West
The United States today has the same problem. Trump does not understand that the American president is also the leader of the West, and if he does not adequately discharge the duties of his second job, then he is derelict in those of his first. Trump’s forerunners would have been disgusted by his saying he was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris when he announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Eisenhower, Kennedy and all the rest would have lectured him, telling him that if an American president cannot convince European skeptics an attack on Berlin, Birmingham, Bordeaux or Barcelona is like an attack on Boston, he might as well go home.
Europe has the Islamic State group and it has terror. The pairs of armed paratroopers patrolling Brussels these days are a reminder the world has turned upside down once or twice since the days of Belgian Congo. Ten minutes from NATO headquarters is an airport that was hit by a terror attack last year. It would be easy enough to plan and carry out an attack on NATO headquarters using a car, motorcycle, or even one person traveling by bus. But far worse is the cyberthreat posed by Russia. The Pentagon is well aware of that. There’s just one person who insists Russia is harmless.
When you examine the sculpture that symbolizes Brussels, it’s easy to see the resemblance between the Manneken Pis and a certain American president. No one in NATO is enjoying that shower.
It is spine-chilling to think that the new D-Day, which turns its back on the legacy of Truman, Marshall and three generations of statesmen who laid the groundwork for a world that regulates itself, is now running the movie backward, from Europe and home.